Centaurea is a genus of about 500 species in the family Asteraceae, native to the Old World.
These plants have erect and hairy stems, narrow, lance shaped leaves and flowers arranged in the flower heads on top of the flowering stem. The flowers contain disk florets, such as those in the yellow center of a daisy, and petal-like ray florets on the periphery of the flower head. Centaureas are rare in the wild, but are becoming increasingly popular in gardens.
The genus name was derived from the Greek word “kentauros”, which means “centaur”.
The name has its basis in Greek mythology. Chiron was a centaur known for his knowledge of medicine. He used the Centaurea flower to heal his wounds. Chiron is credited with teaching mankind about the medical secrets and healing power of herbs.
The name “Cornflower” is given because the plant often grows in cornfields.
The common name “Bachelor’s Button” has several possible origins.
English girls wore them to show they were eligible to marry. It was thought that if a girl hid the flower under her apron, she could have the bachelor of her choice.
The flowers were also worn by young men in love when they liked someone and wanted to date them.
Some believe the common name was given because the bud resembles a kind of button that required no sewing.
The common names “Cornflower”, “Bachelor’s Button” and “Basket Flower” are used for the entire genus but most often refers to the species Centaurea cyanus.
It can also symbolize wealth, prosperity and future.
Interesting facts about Centaurea:
Centaureas in Tutankhamun’s tomb
These flowers were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.
“The cornflower and mayweed on the garland around the mummy were in flower in March and April, which tells us the time of year he was buried,” said Nigel Hepper of the Royal Horticultural Society at Kew Gardens.
And they retained much of their color, despite having being over 3000 years old!
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
Centaurea cyanus is the most popular species of Centaurea.
These annuals are often associated with traditional times and are typically seen in postcards and paintings. The Victorians elevated it to a subtle art. John F. Kennedy loved the flower so much that he wore it on his lapel the day he married his wife Jacqueline.
Centaurea cyanus has been the national flower of Estonia since 1968.
The flower was also adopted by Germany as a symbol of unity and military.
According to the historians, when Napoleon forced Queen Louise of Prussia from Berlin, she hid her children, including her son Wilhelm, in a cornfield. There she kept them entertained by weaving wreaths of Cornflowers. Wilhelm later became the emperor of Germany, and to commemorate his mothers bravery, he made this flower a national emblem of unity.
The plant has a long history of herbal use, though is not widely employed in modern herbalism. It has anti-inflammatory, antipruritic, antirheumatic, antitussive, astringent, diuretic, laxative, ophthalmic and purgative properties. It has been used to treat fever, constipation, chest congestion, water retention and various infections. Some people apply it directly to the eye for irritation. The flowers is said to be a stimulant and the leaves and seeds are useful against infections.
Centaurea cyanus is a good dye plant that can be used as asource of blue dye. In Russia, it is added to Vodka to give it a blue tint.
The development of other highly competitive varieties, the destruction of field-edges, the increased use of herbicides and fertilisers and other human actions have reduced the population of this species.
Benefits and Uses
Some species had long been used in traditional medicine for treating different ailments including various infections. dermatological complaints, gynecological and digestive problems.
Today, the plant is used in modern herbal medicine and are considered to have tonic, stimulant and emmenagogue properties.
The flowers are edible and can be used for culinary decoration. They have a sweet to spicy, clove-like flavor.
The flowers are traditionally blue in color but are also available in purple, pink, yellow and white.
Centaurea can reach 30 to 90 cm (1 to 3 ft) in height.
Centaurea plants prefer moist and well drained soil, with a pH level between 5.5 and 7.0. However, they are very adaptable and will grow in nutritionally poor soils.